When I was younger (not much younger, this was between 2017 and 2018), I wrote stories about young women who grabbed onto the idea of marriage as a path to happiness and a way to claw themselves out of the problems they had in their lives. Let’s talk about all the problems with that mindset. Side note: I love the books I wrote, I love the characters and I love their journeys. What I really, really don’t love is the fact that, when I was writing those books, the only way for my main characters to find safety and happiness was to run from one precarious situation into another one – and yeah, everything worked out in those stories… but in real life, rushing into relationships very often results in being trapped when that spouse that you’ve pinned all your hopes and dreams on turns out to be incompatible with you – or even just a run-of-the-mill abusive, bad person.
The problem with all of that is that viewing marriage as a lifeline or safety net is setting yourself up for disappointment. No one person has the capacity to be all your hopes and dreams and that kind of hyper fixation on your spouse is damaging for a marriage. What should be happening when you get married is that you’ve found someone who’s compatible with you, someone who has similar goals who you’d like to work and progress with together to build a good life. Yeah, that’s not what I was writing. I tried – I did try – to empower my female characters but I was building from a flawed foundation.
I grew up and was socialized into believing that the “husband” character was there to be a strong, competent protector who’d take care of me and solve my problems. This was something that I continued believing for a very long time, in no small part because I had very little personal experience with men in the role of a parent or husband. Heck, I had very little personal experience with boys at all. My parents separated when I was a baby and the only male role model in my life was my grandfather and there are many ways that this has impacted my understanding of relationships.
There is something incredibly damaging in seeing marriage as freedom – to both men and women. Young women should not be desperate to leave their homes because they’re taught that this is the only path to making decisions and taking ownership of their own lives. Young men should not have to struggle to live up to the unrealistic fantasy of a good man that we continue to perpetuate.
We have made some progress in dismantling these ideas and starting to embrace the idea of true partnerships where both spouses contribute different, but equally important resources (time, effort, money and support). But we still have the underlying problem – that many young women are desperate to leave difficult home situations where they’re treated like children (while still being asked to shoulder most of the burdens of adulthood like contributing to expenses, working, doing household chores) or where they’re unhappy because they can’t see eye to eye with their parents.
Why don’t they simply leave? Well, because we’re taught that a Muslim woman who fears Allah remains in her father’s home while she’s unmarried. So we have a trapped young woman who is desperate and vulnerable to any man who can come along and free her from that, a woman who will perhaps not be as cautious as she should and who will ignore red flags because she is so desperate for freedom and she thinks that a marriage will gift her with this freedom.
I was a young woman who wanted to get married because it seemed like a way to be set free. Alhamdulillah, I am also incredibly picky and not at all conventionally attractive so I am not currently in an unhealthy marriage.
I really wish that I’d been able to give those characters better. I wish that I’d been able to write them with more understanding of their own inherent power to choose to leave unhealthy situations without waiting for a socially acceptable excuse. Resisting Taqdeer, the last thing I finished writing, had elements of this but I just couldn’t fully realize it for the character until I’d fully realized it for myself.
To clarify, I didn’t stop writing because I started understanding the flaws in what I was writing (and through that, my perspective on romance in general), I stopped because I started working an incredibly demanding day job. I won’t deny that part of me is really sad that I can’t enjoy the old stories like I used to. But it’s important for me to accept that they’re incredibly flawed because when I wrote them, my perspective was incredibly flawed.
And yes, that is part of why I’ve been so hesitant to start writing again. I don’t want to write the same stories anymore and it’s daunting to try and put something completely new out there that will really contradict my old work. It would be easy to just strip it all from the internet and pretend I didn’t write any of it but that’s not healthy and it’s not true. It exists and I loved it – I still love it, it’s just that I can now see it more clearly.
P.S. I am not trying to comment on anyone else’s work or discourage anyone from liking, writing or reading these kinds of stories. Everything is flawed and liking flawed things is normal, healthy and fine. But fiction is a teaching tool as much as it’s there for entertainment and so acknowledging those flaws is important.